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The Web Development and Design Industry: Consider Your Training Options

written by: Sam OBrien•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 4/22/2010

Are you considering a career in web development and design? Discover what your training options are before deciding on a program or choosing a college.

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    Web Development and Design Training Programs: Which One Is Right for You?

    There are basically two things to consider before deciding on a web development and design training program: yourself and the program itself. Consider your schedule and what type of learner you are. Obviously, if you work full-time, have family obligations, have hobbies or a party life you don't want to give up, health problems, or simply can't survive on a few hours of sleep each night, attending a brick and mortar college might not work for you. Most two-year colleges in the United States are in reality three-year colleges and four-year colleges are five-year colleges. The stress you'll be under and the time it takes to graduate from these schools with good grades are not the only things to consider. The fact is that traditional college training in web development and design is not always superior to the other training options available.

    Web Design Training Options Web development and design can be learned by attending a correspondence school and it can be self taught; however, these choices must be carefully made to ensure you are employable in the field or able to succeed as an independent. All of your choices have pros and cons and should be based on your personal goals and what's feasible for you.

    Many people graduate with a college web development and design degree ill prepared to work in the field; the same is happening with other disciplines. Sadly, the goal of many colleges and universities is simply to attract as many students as possible with one goal in mind – profit, not education. One of my professors revealed to the class the responses he received when speaking with local employers about opportunities for the college's graduates. He was repeatedly told that the college for which he worked, like so many others, simply aren't training competent programmers, web developers, network administrators and engineers; therefore, they weren't interested in establishing a connection with the school.

    Although I chose traditional brick and mortar college training and enjoy working part-time as the web developer for the site of a small ministry, I don't necessarily recommend taking that route if you are a total beginner in web development and design. If you are an amateur with professional skill who simply would like the official "piece of paper," college training will probably work fine for you. If you are a total beginner, don't believe the advertisements that claim you don't need previous knowledge in the field – you do.

    If you don't have previous knowledge, you'll probably be so lost that you might quit school out of frustration. It's common for mounds of homework to be assigned and made due in a ridiculous amount of time simply to meet an assignment quota, not to test what you are learning which could be nothing. This is why self-taught web development and design might be best for you if you are a beginner or don't want to be rushed through your training only to end up graduating not knowing what you need to succeed in the business. If you choose to attend a correspondence school or to self train, know also that if you aren't extremely disciplined and self-motivated, you can expect failure due to constant procrastination.

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    Continue on to the next page for tips on what to look for when choosing a web development and design program.

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    Options for Training in Web Development and DesignThe differences between front and back-end web development and design are discussed to help readers decide which one they might want to do. The course work for training in either or both is also discussed with emphasis placed on freeware and open source software such as the GIMP as a substitute for Adobe Photoshop. Readers are also encouraged to seek certification in the various technologies they learn to increase their chances of working in the competitive field of web development and design.
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    What To Look For in Web Development and Design Training Programs

    Once you've decided whether college training or self study is right for you, you'll still need to either evaluate the course work of the program or determine the courses you'll need to put together for yourself. First, you'll need to know that there is what's known as front-end web development and back-end development; there's also the design aspect.

    Front-end work includes but isn't limited to the work of site layout with Cascading Style sheets (CSS), designing user friendly interfaces, programming in Javascript, and working with web graphics. Back-end work refers primarily to coding server-side scripts and security. Many designers and developer choose one or the other and training programs can be geared towards one or the other, or both.

    If you know ahead of time which one you would like to do, try to concentrate in that area while learning only the basics of the other. The course work of any program for front-end development should definitely include training in Extensible Hypertext Mark-Up Language (X)HTML, CSS, web page graphics working with image manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop or the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP).

    You should also learn what a domain and web host are and the basics of at least a Graphical User Interface (GUI) based File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program for uploading files and images to the server. Most hosts provide an interface for you. The course work of any program for back-end development should always include Javascript simply because it's pretty much the choice for client-side scripting which every back-end developer still should know.

    It should also include learning at least one programming language such as Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP)for writing server-side scripts. PHP is internationally popular, powerful, and best of all, free. Back-end developers must also know (X)HTML, and should know the very basics of CSS, how to use an FTP program for file uploads even in text mode. An introductory course in database development that emphasizes use of the SQL language is another must for back-end development due to the widespread use of data-driven web sites. The basics of XML should also be learned to aid in eventually being able to use the sometimes needed Asynchronous Javascript and XML (AJAX) technology.

    Because of the popularity of Flash web sites, some would also advocate learning Adobe Flash; however, this software is extremely expensive and with the knowledge of JQuery (Javascript Library), which is free, web animation can be accomplished. I'm not a big fan of using expensive software when there are so many freeware and open source software options that serve as versatile and powerful substitutes.

    Knowing how to use open source software is gaining in importance with so many businesses looking to greatly reduce expenses. One of the disadvantages of college training is the promotion of proprietary software such as Adobe Photoshop over the GIMP and Macromedia Dreamweaver over the use of a free and plain text editor. Also, even basic SEO training is often omitted from college course work for web development and design. Unfortunately, the most beautiful and useful web site that the search engines ignore is of no value to anyone when it can't be found by people searching for the content it offers.

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    Final Note on Choosing a Web Development and Design Program

    If you choose to self train in the field, be sure to thoroughly research the educational materials you purchase. Read the reviews on books available and you'll also want to make sure you get hands-on experience; there are quite a few free web hosts out there that even provide you with at least one MySQL database, PHP, and one FTP account. I also highly recommend that if you don't earn a college degree that you at least earn certification in the technologies you learn.

    The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) offers affordable certification exams. You can even train and test online for free. Be willing to volunteer if that is the only way you can get real world experience because it will also provide you with a professional reference. Make sure you have a professional electronic portfolio/resume showcasing your knowledge and skills; you can even take screen shots of code you've written, include your references, and certifications which can speak just as loudly for you as a college degree.

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    A File Opened in the GIMP